We Could Soon Have a New World’s Largest Airline

When Delta and Northwest merged, the combined Delta became the largest airline leapfrogging United and American. Then United and Continental merged and took over the number one spot. And of course American and US Airways merged, to become the biggest single airline.

Except that Delta continued to grow organically, and surpassed United. So it’s actually the second largest airline. But maybe not for long.

  • Between April and June Delta was the world’s largest airline by revenue. American’s revenue was $10.36 billion for the quarter and Delta’s was $10.45 billion.

  • Then it flipped back to American, between July and October American’s revenue was $10.594 billion for the quarter while Delta’s was $10.483 billion.

  • Delta’s net profit was $4.34 billion for the 12 months ending September 30, compared to $3.99 billion for American. (United’s net profit was $3.2 billion.)

We’ll soon see what fourth quarter results look like for the two carriers. Delta’s numbers are out, we’ll just have to see what American’s look like.

Delta is also a much more valuable company than other US carriers:

Delta has continued to find creative ways to grow, for instance building a Pacific hub in Seattle (rather than buying a hub there) and grows revenue by earning more per seat than its competitors. Meanwhile American’s seat growth has largely come from adding seats to aircraft.

American remains the world’s largest airline. But it’s getting close, Delta is catching up.

And Southwest, of course, is more a more valuable company and carries more passengers than most people realize. For all the talk of United, Delta, and American being the big 3 Southwest does carry more domestic passengers than any of the others.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You see this in how Delta doesn’t shy away from domestic competition. They need a west coast hub, so they build one organically in Seattle. They invest in all airports in New York. United and American are more likely to retreat from competition than actually seek it out. Pricing is also competitive in many markets.

    For the average customer buying a coach seat, Delta generally offers the best and most consistent product nationwide. You can also get nice treats in Delta Comfort and even buy a reasonable first class fare.

  2. For someone who claims to be an expert you should know airline size is measured by RPM and not revenue.

  3. @Anthony – Delta does plenty of retreating. CVG/MEM/DTW, the SEA Asia routes, the SEA JFK transcons.

    What EWR investment is Delta making?? A 20 year overdue refurb of the skyclub.

    You can also buy a reasonable first class fare on the other airlines, and you don’t have to deal with nonsense like forcing elites to ‘upgrade’ to comfort plus.

    Oh and flying DL you can’t be rerouted on AA during IRROPS. Good luck in NYC with that when storms hit. The most reliability doesn’t help when a bank of storms rolls in.

    Enough of the Delta fanboys. It’s overrated.

  4. agree with Anthony…..never been impressed with Any of The So called Delta Wizardry….. They are nothing Special. I prefer AA or UA any day of the Week.

  5. @Greg

    Have you flown Delta lately? If not, then you don’t know what you are talking about! American is pitiful, even worse than when they were in bankruptcy. United hit bottom and realized they needed to improve or be happy at the bottom with American. It isn’t all FF programs. The experience on Delta is far superior to AA or UA.

  6. In the in-cabin picture you have, the guy seated in the bottom left looks like he just tried unsuccessfully to redeem a low-level Skymiles award!

  7. Nice catch!

    I am sure you also noticed that people are fed up with AA and are voting with their wallet, leaving in droves. In December they shrunk 0.8% while *both* DL and UA grew 2.6% — that’s a 3.4 percentage points difference.

    At this rate, DL will be bigger than AA in 1.5 years, sooner if AA continues spiraling downward (which I think it will, given their disdain for customers and for providing customer service). Parker will be let go, but he will be a multi decamillionaire (or even centamillionaire) at the cost of shareholders, who will be left with a squandered AA sucked dry by his (ultra-short-term) heist. American capitalism rocks! 😉

  8. AA FF program deval will should ding them as more flyers become free agents.
    Delta #1? What a strange thought.

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